Political Science

That is my next book, now finished, due out February 2017 from St. Martin’s Press.  You can pre-order it from Amazon or Barnes&Noble.  Recommended!

Very little of the content of this book has appeared on Marginal Revolution.  It contains my thoughts on the death of American restlessness, what is happening with segregation by race and income, how we have become a nation of “matchers,” why crime rates will move up, the ultimate sociological roots of the economic great stagnation, why Steven Pinker is probably wrong about world peace, what we can learn from the riots and violence of the 1960s, why the bureaucratization of protest matters, marijuana vs. cocaine vs. heroin, in which significant way gdp statistics really do under-measure productivity, the importance of cyclical theories of history, and what Tocqueville got right and wrong about America.

And much more!  Most of all it is about why the future will be a scary place.

I also am making a special offer for those who pre-order the work.  Just send me an email to tcowen@gmu.edu (or my gmail), and tell me you have pre-ordered The Complacent Class, and I’ll send you a free copy of another work by me — about 45,000 words — on the foundations of a free society.

I have been revising this second one for over fifteen years, and it is called Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.  It is finally ready.

You will receive links to an on-line version with images, a pdf with images, and a plain vanilla pdf for Kindle.

In that work, I outline a true and objectively valid case for a free and prosperous society, and consider the importance of economic growth for political philosophy, how and why the political spectrum should be reconfigured, how we should think about existential risk, what is right and wrong in Parfit and Nozick and Singer and effective altruism, how to get around the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, to what extent individual rights can be absolute, how much to discount the future, when redistribution is justified, whether we must be agnostic about the distant future, and most of all why we need to “think big.”

These are my final thoughts on those topics.  And to be fair, this is likely to come out someday as a more traditional book, but that will not happen soon as I have not shopped it around to any publisher.  So if you pre-order The Complacent Class, you’ll get what is an advance and also free copy of Stubborn Attachments.

Are you feeling down because of the political conventions?  Or maybe you’re feeling down because of me?  This is exactly the bracing and optimistic tonic you need.  These two works, taken as a whole, cover where we are at and also where we need to go.

Here is perhaps the least analytical paragraph in what is mostly an analytical piece by Gideon Lewis-Kraus (NYT).  It is however the paragraph easiest to excerpt:

Joseph Stiglitz is a short, oracular man with gray hair and gray stubble trimmed to equal length, which gives his head the round softness of a late-stage dandelion. His minimal-cognitive-load uniform is a blue sportcoat, an open-necked blue dress shirt and roomy gray trousers over thick-soled black sneakers; I saw him wear this unvarying attire to work in his vast personal complex at Columbia University, meetings at the Ford Foundation, a public Roosevelt colloquy with the Black Lives Matter activist Alicia Garza and Hill briefings. His clothes, along with his trundling gait, give him the appearance of a curmudgeonly but twinkle-eyed shtetl tailor, come to dispense wisdom about structures of international trade-dispute arbitration as he fits the bar mitzvah boy for a suit. He has a dry wit but seems not entirely sure when jokes have been received as such, and so, as if someone once told him that he should soften his fearsome intellect by smiling more, he punctuates his speech with a randomized distribution of grins.

There is much on the Roosevelt Institute, Mike Konczal, and how the Left tries to copy the Right, among other topics, recommended.

Here is one bit, there is more analytical political science at the link:

5. Trump’s foreign policy advisor on Russia and Europe is Carter Page, a man whose entire professional career has revolved around investments in Russia and who has deep and continuing financial and employment ties to Gazprom. If you’re not familiar with Gazprom, imagine if most or all of the US energy industry were rolled up into a single company and it were personally controlled by the President who used it as a source of revenue and patronage. That is Gazprom’s role in the Russia political and economic system. It is no exaggeration to say that you cannot be involved with Gazprom at the very high level which Page has been without being wholly in alignment with Putin’s policies. Those ties also allow Putin to put Page out of business at any time.

Recommended reading for your final exams in public choice.  Do read it all.

Maybe I already covered this, but it is worth re-upping this Michael Rosenwald piece from March:

A man had just gone on a shooting rampage in Kalamazoo, Mich., allegedly killing six people while driving for Uber. Sherry Towers, an Arizona State University physicist who studies how viruses spread, worried while watching the news coverage.

Last year, Towers published a study using mathematical models to examine whether mass shootings, like viruses, are contagious. She identified a 13-day period after high-profile mass shootings when the chance of another spikes. Her findings are confirmed more frequently than she would like.

…Studies have shown that the aircraft hijackings of the 1970s were contagious. Product tampering — also contagious. So is highway speeding, rioting and even military coups. Contagion is especially pronounced in suicides.

Do read the whole thing.  It is related to my recent Bloomberg piece about macro and political and financial contagion across borders.  And here is Michael’s very latest piece on the Munich shootings.

That is the new and excellent book by Kerry Brown.  Almost all books on China are either bad or mediocre, but this one is the best book I ever have read on the exercise of power in contemporary China.  Every page is good, here is a short excerpt:

More important than a cabinet in the Western system of government, yet ostensibly separate from day-to-day decision making, the Politburo owns the crucial function of dispensing ideological, spiritual and political leadership.  This description means it covers nothing and everything.  It has the broadest framework within which to operate, which means it can wander into every area of administrative and governmental life in the country.  But like the ideal city described in Plato’s Republic, in a strange way China is really run on the model of philosopher kings.

Definitely recommended, one of my favorite non-fiction books of the year so far.  I can readily imagine re-reading it.

I had a bit of a cold, but I covered why the world seems to be falling apart, what the hell is wrong, why inequality isn’t really the problem, why Steven Pinker might be wrong about peace, which aspects of globalization might be the most problematic, whether the world is becoming less free, and how Joe McCarthy has these days ended up underrated.

Here is the link.

Yes, globalization, immigration, and wage stagnation are all factors, not to mention the cultural issues.  But there is another culprit: inadequate savings.  This, by the way, helps explain why so much of the Trump support comes from relatively old people.  Here is one bit from my Bloomberg View column today:

Social Security is already the primary source of income for retired Americans, yet Social Security benefits for the elderly average only $16,000 a year, and traditional private-sector pensions have dwindled in importance.

When it comes to comparative retirement security, in an international comparison the United States finished 19th for three years in a row. Even relatively optimistic assessments suggest that only about 28 percent of American households will be able to maintain their pre-retirement living standards.

…As for today’s 45-to-69-year-olds, only 36 percent claim to be engaging in net savings. And only 45 percent of all people earning $75,000 to $100,000 a year claim to have net positive savings, as measured in 2012. That helps explain why the typical Trump voter in the Republican primaries earned a relatively high income of about $72,000 a year and still worried about his or her economic future.

We all know that falling incomes often have more political salience than low incomes.  Furthermore this weakness of the American economy does not show up in either gdp or unemployment statistics.  My conclusion is this:

Trump is himself often portrayed as impetuous. It is less commonly remarked that he may be in part the result of a broader and larger impatience that has plagued American society for decades.

Do read the whole thing.

Addendum: Here is commentary from Kevin Drum but I do not think he rebuts the estimates that consumption levels will be declining, often significantly, for a big chunk of this population.

Matthew Gentzkow, Jesse Shapiro, and Matt Taddy have a new NBER paper Measuring Polarization in High-Dimensional Data: Method and Application to Congressional Speech.

We study trends in the partisanship of Congressional speech from 1873 to 2009. We define partisanship to be the ease with which an observer could infer a congressperson’s party from a fixed amount of speech, and we estimate it using a structural choice model and methods from machine learning. The estimates reveal that partisanship is far greater today than at any point in the past. Partisanship was low and roughly constant from 1873 to the early 1990s, then increased dramatically in subsequent years. Evidence suggests innovation in political persuasion beginning with the Contract with America, possibly reinforced by changes in the media environment, as a likely cause. Naive estimates of partisanship are subject to a severe finite-sample bias and imply substantially different conclusions.

It seems this move toward polarization starts around the time of Newt Gingrich and the Contract with America, and it starts with the Republican Party.  It remains an open question, however, how much this corresponds to greater polarization in more concrete terms.  To some extent symbolic polarization may substitute for the ever-diminishing ability of politicians to disagree about how to allocate discretionary spending.  Let them eat ideology!

Bryan Caplan writes:

The fact that Londoners showed little sympathy for Brexit is telling: People who experience true mass immigration first-hand tend to stop seeing it as a problem.  “Backlash,” as Tyler Cowen calls it, is a symptom of insufficient migration – the zone where immigrants are noticeable but not ubiquitous.  I know he disagrees, but I honestly can’t figure out why.

The post makes many other different and interesting points, but I’ll stick with this one.  Here goes:

1. Had the UK had much freer immigration, London would be much more crowded.  With truly open borders, people would be sleeping on the sidewalks in large numbers.  London itself would have turned against such a high level of immigration, which quickly would have turned into a perceived occupation.

2. Changes often have different effects than levels: “Where foreign-born populations increased by more than 200% between 2001 and 2014, a Leave vote followed in 94% of cases. The proportion of migrants may be relatively low in Leave strongholds such as Boston, Lincolnshire, but it has soared in a short period of time. High numbers of migrants don’t bother Britons; high rates of change do.”

In other words, had there been higher levels of immigration into non-London parts of the UK, the backlash may well have been stronger yet.  For a careful reader of the Caplanian corpus, that is in fact a Caplanian point and I am surprised it did not occur to Bryan.

3. The highest quality and most easily assimilating immigrants will be attracted to London and the greater London area.  Packing Birmingham with London-style levels of immigration won’t give you London-style immigrants, nor will it turn Birmingham into London.

4. London already has a population pre-selected to like immigration.  Spreading London-like levels of immigration to the rest of England wouldn’t make immigration as popular elsewhere as it is currently in London, even if that immigration went as well elsewhere (which would not be the case, see #3).

5. Post 1980s, England underwent a very rapid and significant change with respect to the number of immigrants it allowed to stay in the country.  If that wasn’t fast enough for the open borders idea to avoid a backlash along the way, then perhaps the new saying ought to be “Only whiplash avoids backlash.”  But that won’t exactly be popular either.

There is a very simple interpretation of current events, including of course the Trump movement in the United States.  It is “the backlash effect against immigration is stronger than we used to think, and we need to adjust our expectations accordingly.”  When Bryan writes “I know he disagrees, but I honestly can’t figure out why”, I think he is simply afraid to stare that rather obvious truth in the eye.  In any case, it’s staring rather directly at him.

Theresa May has indicated that Brexit could be delayed as she said she will not trigger the formal process for leaving the EU until there is an agreed “UK approach” backed by Scotland.

The Prime Minister on Friday travelled to Scotland to meet Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, and discuss plans for Britain’s Brexit negotiation.

In a sign that the new Prime Minister is committed to keeping the Union intact, she said she will not trigger Article 50 – the formal process for withdrawing from the EU – until all the devolved nations in the country agree.

That is from The Daily Telegraph.  Here is my previous post on whether Article 50 ever will be invoked.

Here is my first column for Bloomberg View (more on that transition soon), on the research of Erik Myersson:

In autocracies, successful coups often improve economic performance, perhaps by replacing an incompetent or malevolent leader. In democratic countries, however, a successful coup is associated with lower per capita growth rates by an average of 1 to 1.3 percentage points per year over the following decade. On average, these coups reverse beneficial economic reforms, especially for the financial sector.

When a coup does overthrow a democratically elected government, it tends to bring a military leader and significant changes in policy, and not usually for the better. There are long-run correlations of such successful coups against democracies with lower investment, lower schooling and higher infant mortality.

…for failed coups in democracies the more general historical results are quite different. In fact, they are difficult to distinguish from no economic growth effects at all. Given the various imprecisions of statistics, this does not prove that failed coups will have no growth effects, but it can be said that the numbers give us no clear reason to be worried, at least not over the 10-year time horizon chosen by Meyersson. This may be one reason why asset markets do not seem to be panicking over the failed Turkish coup attempt.

To be sure, there are some possible or even likely short run effects of the recent turmoil, such as declines in tourism or foreign investment. Still, the data as a whole are showing that the long-run fundamentals of democracies with failed coups tend to reassert themselves within the 10-year time horizon, and those short-run disruptions end up mattering less than we might think.

Do read the whole thing.  You will note that shares of the Turkish closed end mutual fund are still up about thirteen percent for the year (FT link), though down 2.5 percent at Friday’s close.

Now if Turkey had left the European Union, that would be a different matter altogether…

In other words, last night was an outlier.  Here is Jonathan M. Powell and Clayton L. Thyne in the Journal of Peace Research:

We also see some interesting trends in the frequency of coup attempts over time. As shown in Figure 2, there is a fairly clear decline in the total frequency of coup attempts over time. The high point for coup attempts came in the mid-1960s, followed by two more bubbles in the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. The number of successful coups has likewise decreased over time. We saw 12 successful coups in both 1963 and 1966. The mid- to late-1970s also saw a brief burst of successful coups (ranging from 3 to 9 for each year). An interesting trend emerges when we look at the percentage of coup attempts that resulted in successful regime changes, which we plot on the right side of the Y-axis. The mean success rate is 48% during the entire time span. This rate saw early peaks around 1970 and 1980, and then a decline until the turn of the century. However, we see another spike in the success rate starting in 2003. Twelve of the 18 (67%) coup attempts since then have been successful, and only one of the most recent four coup attempts has failed. While coups have certainly waned over time, the recent success of coup plotters suggests that coups remain a key element of governmental instability.

I cannot readily pull out Figure 2 from the pdf, but it is on p.7 of the document.  Note that their data run up through 2010, and thus do not cover the Arab Spring.

Here is Naunihal Singh, writing at Monkey Cage a few years ago:

More fundamentally problematic, however, is the assumption that popular opinion has an impact on coups. Although this claim is common in political science, there is no evidence to support it. Over the course of writing my book, “Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups,” I spent 300 hours talking with participants in 10 coup attempts in Ghana and statistically analyzed the determinants of every coup attempt and outcome in the world from 1950 to 2000. Based on this evidence, I argue that there is no reason to believe that military factions hesitate to attempt coups when popular opinion is against them, or that coup attempts are more likely to fail when the populace is opposed.

Over the course of this research, I observed that conspirators devoted very little consideration during coup plotting to the question of how the population would react. Coup makers are largely convinced that their cause is just (even when the coup comes from a partisan or personal interest), and that they will have widespread popular support for their actions, with perhaps limited opposition coming from entrenched special interests.

…there is no relationship between economic growth rates and the likelihood of a coup. Similarly, there is no relationship between regime type and coup attempts. Even though democracies are presumed to have higher levels of legitimacy than other kinds of political regimes, they were no more or less likely to experience coup attempts. Lastly, coup attempts were actually more likely to occur during presidential election years, which suggests that conspirators were acting to thwart the popular will rather than being constrained by it.

…The bottom line is that the dynamics of a coup attempt are almost entirely internal to the military.

Read the whole thing.  Nam Kyu Kim dissents from some of those propositions.  Note that since early 2015, Turkish growth rates have been in the four to six percent range, hardly miserable.

From Istanbul, follow him here.  Here is my 2010 post “Why Timur Kuran is one of our most important thinkers.”  Timur’s work has held up very well since then, to say the least.

Addendum: Here are remarks from Turkish economist Dani Rodrik.

Go to this link, and click on “Coup-proofing in Turkey.”  (Or try here.)  It is a recent 2006 account of what the Turkish government has tried to do to make the country coup-proof, by Gokhan Bacik and Sammas Salur.  They tried many institutional changes toward that end.  Here is one paragraph:

In terms of coup-proofing, the first issue is the military aspect. Gül is now the commander of the armed forces. First of all, any high level military appointment requires his consent. All major military appointments and promotions also require his official endorsement. Yet, the traditional alliance between the president and the army against the government was dissolved. In the past, the corridor between the army and the president worked so far as an instrument of influence over the political elites. The formula “army plus the president”, to remind six of the former presidents were generals, put the government into a restricted zone. Thus, by the fall of presidency, the officers lost a very important historical corridor that kept them legally in the political game. Now, putting aside a third costly option they should either obey the president or stop. Ironically, as a result of this situation, weekly meetings are scheduled between the prime minister and chief of staff as no routine tête-à-tête meeting ever took place before. The lack of such a regular meeting in the past was basically the army’s autonomous position. Gül’s presidency, a man out of the traditional Kemalist quota, weaken the traditional role of army vis a vis political elites.

It doesn’t seem it worked!  The paper nonetheless makes for interesting reading.  It talks about increasing power for the courts, changes to the intelligence services, increasing reliance on the police, and other attempted coup-proofing strategies in Turkey.  Note that in the past Turkish military coups have been relatively bloodless and swift; we’ll see if that is still the case.  If things do turn violent, which seems at least possible given what I am right now seeing on my TV screen, that suggests in some cases “coup-proofing” may be overrated.